A major fundraising campaign and an assessment of the vitality of Black congregations are central to a plan released by the new top executive of United Methodist Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.
“In the next 18 months, our goal is to raise between $250,000 to $300,000,” said the Rev. Michael L. Bowie Jr., the former senior pastor of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas. His appointment as national executive director of SBC21 was announced March 1.
“When we say $300,000, I would say that’s the floor, not the ceiling.”
SBC21, a national racial ethnic plan of The United Methodist Church, is dedicated to helping predominantly Black congregations become more effective in mission and ministry. Its three core programs are the National Prison and Social Justice Ministry; Collaborative Coaching and Training Network; and National Network of Young Adults.
Bowie said his first fundraising conversations already have happened with “large church pastors” interested in eradicating systemic racism in the world and within the denomination.
“We’re battling, I would say, two viruses: a virus COVID-19 and a virus of systemic racism,” Bowie said. “It’s important and urgent that we as the Black church and Black community begin to speak to the boldest oppression that’s out there right now.”
Bowie said it’s important to “strike while the iron is hot” on the issue of police brutality.
“How does the Black church begin to speak and have a relevant voice during this era, during this season?” he said.
In the plan for Bowie’s first 100 days of work, SBC21 said it was embarking on a Black Church Matters initiative. The similarity of the term “Black Church Matters” to that of the Black Lives Matter movement is intentional.
“When I first got in this seat, it had recently come out (about) the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery,” he said. “So a lot of things have been happening and I was really in prayer.”
Bowie wants SBC21 to be a relevant voice on racial issues, because he believes the Black Lives Matter movement is filling a gap abandoned by the Black church.
“I think the Black church had fallen asleep or got into malaise,” Bowie said. “So I believe it’s time for the Black church to regain and remember its historical significance.”
The agenda includes:
● Developing an assessment to determine the vitality and health of African American congregations;
● Listening to bishops and annual conferences to determine immediate needs that SBC21 can assist with in fulfilling their mission;
● Revamping its website with relevant resources that SBC21 will curate and produce with the help of United Methodist partners including Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Communications, The Upper Room, the Board of Church and Society and Board of Global Ministries;
● Launching a two-year fundraising campaign to support churches by offering grants and scholarships for innovative ministry; and
● Inspiring congregations to become more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial.
The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, has been friends with Bowie since they were roommates at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kansas. They are part of a loose group of United Methodists who call themselves “Shift 180.”
“We’re trying to bring a change in church and in society,” Cleaver said. “So we call ourselves Shift 180. I think there are eight of us.”
He said Bowie is “the perfect fit” for the SBC21 post, noting his life experiences, education and knack for mentoring both his peers and younger pastors.
“But especially the experiences he’s had in churches make him the perfect fit,” Cleaver said.
Bowie has served in small, growing and large United Methodist churches, including St. Luke; Love United Methodist Church in Houston; Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio; and Stonybrook United Methodist Church in Gahanna, Ohio.
“I think he has a good working knowledge of the different types of churches and (has) seen where, as a whole, the church — in particular the Black church — needs to go and can go,” Cleaver said. “He’s always been a visionary looking to see where we need to go and how we need to get there.”
Bowie said Black churches “can be one of the leading catalysts and agents for change in this denomination.”
“I believe that when the Black church is strong, United Methodism is stronger,” Bowie said.